Historic Hardware: Mini Disc

There was a time in the 90’s when Mini Disc (MD) was a serious contender for a portable media format… And I still have the one I purchased in 1997.

Still have the original box even.

CDs were the king of media in the 90’s, having had a decade-plus to get a foothold in the public consciousness. But CDs had a few problems that were hard to get around – they were fragile and tended to scratch easy, they skipped during playback if you jostled them too much, and without spending a ton of money they were read-only.

Sony created the MD format to address these shortcomings. The disc is in a cartridge which makes them pretty rugged and at roughly three inches square and a quarter of an inch thick they are even more portable than a cassette tape.

An MD with quarter for scale.

MD also doesn’t skip outside of something cataclysmic happening to the player. And MD uses magneto optical (MO) technology which allows end-users to record to them without spending a 1990’s fortune on a CD burner. MO also lasts forever

MD devices used ATRAC encoding, which is essentially Sony’s version of MP3 but designed for low-power portable systems.

At the time, ripping a CD to MP3s required a top-end computer and lots of time because the compression mechanism of MP3 was built around computational horsepower. ATRAC on the other hand could compress audio real-time on a battery powered embedded microcontroller, and the resulting compressed audio was sonically on-par with high bitrate MP3.

The best part though was that your average $300 MD player was actually a tiny recording studio, and you could dub, mix tracks, cut and splice, and all sort of things on a device that fit in your pocket and ran off a rechargeable battery.

My 702 playing an MD I recorded in 1997

Ultimately MD was pretty short-lived… 1995 – 2005 or so… Sony made the first MD player in 1992 and didn’t stop making MD players until like 2010-ish, but the heyday was only a few years in the middle.

About a year after MD was released improvements in processing power quickly made MP3s ubiquitous on the Internet, and about a year after that portable MP3 players were a possibility… A few years after that and you could buy $20 MP3 players at the grocery store.

And that was the end of Mini Disc… Except for folks like me who keep one around for old time’s sake. 🙂

New World

A new MMO released yesterday; New World. And I spent a few hours yesterday playing it – once I could get logged in anyway.

The above is just one of the servers, of which there were about 20 on the west coast alone. Amazon added more servers after this – they probably have a few spares laying around – and that reduced the lines to a couple hundred per server.

As mentioned above, this one is made by Amazon so there is essentially unlimited money put into it, and so far it’s been pretty good.

The setting is a curious take on the 16th century, during the find and conquer phase a lot of countries were going through. So the location for the game is a fantastical island discovered by someone and now being explored by soldiers of fortune, secret societies, and the church.

The ‘classless’ character system in use is pretty neat in that your skills advance and are based on what you are holding, so plate wearing mages and whatnot are possible. You can also change your ‘role’ by simply switching gear… Want to heal, put on your healing stuff.

The crafting system is pretty good too, and has a lot of depth.

Graphically it looks pretty good, though the character animations are a bit stiff. The towns so far are really cool and ‘feel’ appropriate to the setting. And the three factions are interesting and appropriate to the setting.

Some game loops I’ve not encountered yet are the PvP, the city-building, and the faction mini-game. I’ve only made it to level 10, which is about where you get to choose your faction, so I’ve not seen anything past that.

Right now things are a bit convoluted if you want to find specific people on the servers, but I’m “Raeshlavik Edain” on the “Theta” server group on the west server center. There are sets of servers in various groups, and people can move around within that server group. So the “Theta” group has about a dozen different servers in it, and hopefully once the rush abates people can group up.

All in all I’m looking forward to playing some more as soon as I get some time… Launching a game in the middle of the work week isn’t optimal for us working class stiffs.

Some like it hot…

Found a new chicken place yesterday called “Twisted Tenders” which is really good.

“Twisted Tenders” is a ‘virtual’ restaurant, meaning it only exists as a menu and you can only get their food via Doordash or UberEats. These ‘virtual’ places are typically just some other restaurant branching out a bit to keep the money coming in when no one really goes to restaurants anymore because of zombies.

Twisted Tenders, for example, is actually Old Chicago Pizza. Everything is made at the local Old Chicago, the delivery driver goes there to pick it up, and even the to-go packaging is Old Chicago labeled.

But the chicken is really, really good. And the sauce selection is equally good with things ranging from the standards of Buffalo, BBQ, and Ranch to more exotic things like cajun inspired, peppercorn parmesan, a tangy asian inspired sauce, and the token ‘hot’ offering.

The sauces all have highly entertaining names too, “Crazy Rich Asian”, “Free Range Ranch”, “Voodoo” (the cajun variant), “Son of a B!” (a horseradish/honey based sauce), and even “Dr. Assburn” – the hot sauce, of course.

As I’ve mentioned previously; I’m a fan of hot and spicy stuff – as long as it’s flavorful. There are hot sauces out there that literally just taste like burning, and those don’t enthuse me much. But something with a good flavor that can still incite a good sweat is an easy win for me.

Dr. Assburn is right on the line for me. It’s flavorful, but it’s also apocalyptically hot.

Now, all of these sauces appear to be hand-made, so it may not be the same every time. But my first encounter was good, and even my super picky roommate liked the chicken. So there’s that.

More ancient history…

My last remaining Pennsylvania ballcap from 30+ years ago, and one of the ubiquitous EAB dust caps that we submariners tend to use as keychains.

Ship’s hull number ball caps were regulation while in dungarees back in the 80’s (might still be, I dunno), so I had a wide selection of these ball caps… If I wasn’t wearing a dixie cup or a hardhat, these were my daily wear while onboard the Pennsylvania and at E.B. there in Groton.

The downward folds on the brim weren’t terribly regulation, but no one cared.

The easy way to tell the real-80’s-deal from a more modern hat is that the ship’s name, the dolphins, and the hull number are all separately embroidered onto the hat. The modern hats appear to be a patch attached to the cap or the ship’s info screen printed onto it – and they just look cheap in my opinion.

The EAB dust cap in the photo is a newer model of the brass ones we used back in the 80’s. I lost my original one some twenty years ago and replaced it with a newer one for old-time’s sake… It’s a hell of a conversation starter. 🙂

While taking this stroll down memory lane, someone had asked me “What’s the oldest thing you own?”

I’m taking this to mean personal item and not some antique I acquired because it was an antique.

I think it would be my pencil…

Ye olde Staedtler Mars 780 lead holder and optional sharpener.

To the uninitiated this will look like the bog standard 2mm 780 lead holder you can buy right now at your local art store; Staedtler has been making the 780 for like 50 years after all. But for those in the know – they will recognize this as being the late 1970’s incarnation.

The holder and the sharpener were part of a kit that also had a compass, this cool three-sided ruler, and some other pieces. My mother bought the set for me when I entered junior high in my 7th grade year – or 1981.

And I’ve used the pencil as my ‘daily driver’ ever since.

Yes, there are 12 year old me fingerprints on this thing. It has written roleplay worlds and rules my neighbor and I used, homework that I never turned in, old BASIC programs that ran on my ZX-81 and VIC20, my Navy rating exams, notes for my qualifications at test depth on a submarine, artwork that I did in the 80’s and 90’s, code and design work for the Sticker Station in the 2000’s, my resume in 2004 for where I currently work, and most recently some security notes for Apple.

Lots of miles on this thing, and lots of memories as well.

While we’re on the subject of old pencils, here’s a collector’s item I’ve had since 1990:

The Tombow Monotech 500 0.3 limited edition “black”

This is a super rare Japanese mechanical pencil designed for animation work. I picked it up for myself at an art store where I was dropping a couple hundred on art supplies for my ex… And while I’ve never done animation with it, it’s an incredible tool to draw with.

This pencil stays in the box it came with when not in use, because it would be frighteningly easy to bend the tip on it.

I also have a collection of Rotring ArtPens and technical pens, but those aren’t as interesting. 🙂

Website Update

After some fiddling I think the website here is acceptable now.

I like simplicity, so the WordPress site here will always be easy to render on a toaster, but I also have certain requirements for style. I think the current incarnation hits the sweet spot.